If travel in the first part of our holiday was based on public transportation and plenty of walking. Italy was going to be a long and winding road. Driving in Italy is fun.
Since we started this holiday, travel has been about the experience of moving through places, seeing people and eating food. It’s always inspiring. Informative too. Figuring out driving on the wrong side of the road certainly awakens the senses. Who says what’s right anyway? Matter of perspectives…
We hired a tiny Fiat Panda at the Venice airport and had the freedom to explore on our terms. Driving in Italy is fun. The small villages and rural areas that make Italy so special are more easily accessible this way. Considering the snug roads and limited parking spaces, there are good reasons to hire a small car rather than a large car.
The boot of our Fiat Panda was just big enough to fit our only suitcase. We packed the backseat with large Panettones*, bottles of Prosecco and all sorts of amazing edible Italian goodies.
It is time to talk about driving in (the north of) Italy.
The roads in the countryside are meant for local traffic, they are narrow and winding, with twists and turns on every corner and some are along deep ravines. At any time you may find yourself behind a peloton of cyclist training on the challenging climbs.
Leaving those narrow country roads for our next destination we decided to use the more convenient Autostrada, the Italian national (tolled) highway.
Firstly, one visualizes fleets of red Ferraris and Lamborghinis speeding past, after all, we are in Italy. You’ll occasionally see some.
We entered the Autostrada in Vicenza. We knew not to use the lane indicating something called “Telepass”. (the barrier opens automatically and charges are billed to a toll-card the locals register for in advance). Always use the other lane to obtain a ticket when entering and pay when leaving the Autostrada.
In this instance, the barrier was open and the machine wasn’t issuing a ticket, for whatever reason. Could it be resolved on exit from the Autostrada by simply explaining the situation at the toll booth and paying for the route we took?
No, no, no, this is Italy. To keep a long story short, the fine was a whopping Euro 64.00 and credit cards are not accepted. “Toll fees” (of this magnitude) are payable at the Post Office! Lesson learned. Make sure there is a barrier, that it is closed on arrival and that you obtain a ticket. No amount of explaining, in Italian, will help you on the other side. Still, one has to wonder whether it would not have been better to speak English and maybe they’d have put a more understanding person on the line. At least in Africa, we talk about things and agree on a suitable “toll”. Non capisco**…
On the upside, when driving in Northern Italy, the Autostrada stations for filling up with fuel, a quick espresso or a freshly made panini, are a great experience for anyone traveling on the highways. My friend, who’s a critic of lousy coffees was most impressed with the fact that even the simplest of rest stations in Italy serves up a perfect coffee.
Speaking of which. For a quick pick me up – try Pocket Coffee. Usually sold at the counter – it is the best. The best. You’ll thank me.
Filling up with petrol in Italy is generally self-service. They offer “serviced” fuel at a different rate per litre. Most Europeans practically grew up with self-service. In South Africa, we expect service at “service” stations.
*Pannetone: delicious Italian Christmas bread
** Non Capisco: I don’t understand – also see [here] for pronunciation.